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A Revolution in Sound: Break Down the Walls!
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A Revolution in Sound: Break Down the Walls!

May 16, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Opening the Door to New Ways of Working

I personally believe, as an industry, we are not looking outwards nearly enough at other interdisciplinary crafts and creative businesses in an attempt to see where different environments, thinking, creative problem solving and working practices can be assimilated into our production culture. There isn't much of a way in for new ideas, especially in terms of the day-to-day process of creating and prototyping features and eventually shipping successful games.

We are overly guilty of looking to other games, and sometimes cinema, which has its own failures -- but most often only for examples of content, rather than working practices. We are almost too busy working in and on games to recognize failures in our culture (there are many, and they are well documented: crunch, etc.) and seek change. Failure is an opportunity to iterate and improve, a pathfinding tool to success -- but only if we embrace and recognize it.

The likes of Apple, Google, Pixar, and Ideo are places where an open, critical, iterative and collaborative culture is deliberately built into the DNA, and, crucially, the working environment itself. The work process itself, reflects this with open meeting, play and work spaces that evolve and change as the teams work together on solving design problems.

Sound production and direction suffer acutely from being uniquely reactionary (at the end of the dependency and production line) in the industry, yet the real problem is that sound is an afterthought in the creation process itself. As an audio director, in my work across several different studios, I've seen too many missed opportunities arrive too late in production.

Perhaps the only real solution to the afterthought culture is for sound to be an active participant in the design process itself. This is not an easy integration to accomplish, particularly in a production culture that's already beginning to stratify, which is a worrying trend for such a young medium.

Some, myself included, have had reasonable success here, sitting on the team space at certain times during production and operating as part of design and story "cells", yet the momentum needs to push further in this direction. We need a more culturally embedded approach. Interdisciplinary practice should be a more natural and sustainable feature of the working culture of an audio designer. It is ultimately the work of many years of change.

Culture of Critical Collaboration

How then, do we as audio designers on a team, move forwards out of the bunker studio and silo cell mentality? In actual fact, I don't think it is fair to call the sound studio culture a "mentality". Here is the crux of the problem. It is a working practice that has evolved out of, and is perpetuated by, studio design.

Working as a audio director, I know how easy it is to become entrenched in an enclosed bunker, often working alone. The isolated box becomes a cultural, creative, and solitary cell in which there is little collaborative spirit; the longer you spend in there, the more a full-scale retreat from the team becomes inevitable.

Think about it. "There are sound-proofed comfortable studios available to work in. I need to get work done. There is no space on the team floor. Why would I need to be (or even desire to be) in the comparatively boisterous shop floor?"

My point here is that sound studio spaces are isolationist by design, and intimidating to others on the team thanks to a typical closed-door policy. In fact, the truth of the matter is that audio suites are mostly viewed by the rest of the team with a mixture of envy and disdain. While I won't argue that these spaces, and their acoustic treatments, are essential to producing high quality work and assets, they unfortunately do this while negating the fundamentals of collaboration.

It should also be said that, of course, a sound designer shouldn't be in one place all the time, be that on the team floor or in a sound studio; audio design is a flexible, dynamic, and energetic endeavor. What is required is a flexible open studio design to facilitate this movement and cross-collaboration.

In fact, we need a radical rethink not only of what a sound studio means, but what a development studio means, and how it functions for interdisciplinary collaboration. One architectural proposition for a forward-looking, fresh video game studio design, would be for an audio studio design and layout that forgoes the traditional hermetic audio studio design in favor of a social, collaborative and flexible space, or a sporadic network of studios that is part of the wider team, yet maintaining the integrity and dedication to a sound friendly space (free of AC hum and hiss, computers hidden away in machine room spaces).

I would even suggest that there be no "non-sound" spaces included in the entire design, and that every space include elements of a sound-savvy culture such as speakers, headphones, acoustic treatment (flexible and mobile), listening stations etc. As a young and wealthy industry, it is difficult to understand why we aren't already commissioning and working in spaces that positively influence the way we work.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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